Dover Beach Characters
by Matthew Arnold

Dover Beach book cover
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Dover Beach Characters

The main characters in “Dover Beach” are the speaker and the beloved.

  • The speaker seems to be a young man, perhaps similar to Matthew Arnold himself, who has become disillusioned by the loss of religious faith and structure in Victorian life.
  • The beloved is implied by the speaker’s addresses to his “love.” The beloved offers a small sense of certainty: though it is now difficult to find meaning, love is one thing the speaker can be sure of.

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The Speaker

The main persona in "Dover Beach" is the unnamed speaker, possibly Matthew Arnold himself. We can infer that this speaker is a young man who once felt a kind of "certitude" in what faith meant and what the purpose of his life was. Now, however, he is overtaken by uncertainty and unhappiness; he is standing on the beach and looking out onto a beautiful evening, but is certain only that he can hear an "eternal note of sadness" being brought in on the sea. He is unhappy because he feels that faith is beginning to ebb away from his island nation, and this means that the world now seems empty of all the joys it once seemed to hold.

The Beloved

The speaker addresses his beloved; this is made explicit in the final stanza of the poem, in which he tells her that they two should cling to each other more fiercely than ever, because they are no longer certain of anything the world can offer. Around them, others seem to behave like "ignorant armies," fighting each other in the dark without any real idea of what they are doing.


Arnold also refers to the Greek tragedian Sophocles. He presents an image of Sophocles, many thousands of years before, hearing the same note of sadness on the Aegean sea. This helps to suggest that humans have been dealing with these crises of faith for many thousands of years and have always sought to find a solution to their "misery" with little lasting success.